by GHK Lall
As I watch and reflect upon the unyielding political impasses, the questions that come are: what is so different this time? What is so compelling, so inflammatory, that there is neither space nor opportunity nor inclination to lean forward, to reach for something—anything—that would narrow the yawning space in Guyana’s political no man’s land? What is there that mangles any groundwork toward some semblance of the genuine clasp of a national handshake?
I arrive at two answers to all those questions about why this country is at this point of sightless, wordless catastrophic stall. The first is unsurprising: OIL! The second place should startle: Cheddi Jagan. I say it again: Cheddi Jagan.
By now, oil as a major contributory component of Guyana’s cement-textured political confrontations is taken for granted. I so take it. For now, very few have been so nakedly vulgar (at least publicly) to attach such cheap considerations to local political troubles and deafness. One more time: I do. Rather, commentators and observers have satisfied themselves with the constitutional and legal to shelter that first ugly truth. Who is going to get near to the oil money first? Who will take control of the flow? Those are the steeled sides of the equation.
Black gold, though not physically palpable yet, is already pleasantly chewable, favorably digestible, from the mere thinking of what it means. It is definitely calculable and smellable. This Guyanese know from visits to the filling station, the cost of cooking gas, and the weight of the light bill. And we know, too, of the madness to which it drives men everywhere: it is that seductive Pandora and Mona Lisa smile and invitation named petroleum. Wise men, righteous men, reserved men have abandoned logic, god, and the family, too. Come with me.
From the mud of Pennsylvania to the sands of Arabia to the lakes of Venezuela, and all the lesser stops in between, it has been the same tragic story of men casting away reason, intellect, and simple common sense. Whether 150 years ago at the inception overseas, or today at this fateful crossroads here in Guyana, it is the same tragic story. Because now at this imminent hour of Guyana’ gift, there are these disasters waiting in the political arena. Wherever oil flows, blood has, too. That should be neither unknown nor unprecedented.
It is why there is only the madness of hardness (no give, no movement) in Guyana’s political currents today. As I said earlier, this should not surprise. But it is the first difference that was never present before.
On the other hand, this might be the hardest of hard sells, but I submit that the second component of this nation’s pig-iron political distress is traceable to Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the longest serving opposition leader in the history of this country. Citizens bracing for a flurry of sins should rest easy. They were there. And, of necessity, for this narrative they must be partially recounted to provide context.
Cheddi Jagan rightly (or wrongly) was faulted for his ideologies, his policies, his inflexibilities. He could be taken to task for “apaan jaat” and his lack of political fluidity when such counted. And yet for all of that and more, there was one differentiating ingredient in Cheddi Jagan that is priceless to a political leader. Cheddi Jagan was a sympathetic figure. Even to his opponents, with the possible exceptions of hardline enemies, the man evoked a wide sympathetic streak: Cheddi Jagan cast a recognizable, pardonable, likeable shadow.
Ironically, the longer he languished in the political wilderness, the larger he grew as someone wronged, someone demonized, someone deserving of better. Someone who could be—should be—trusted with a hand at the helm. This may be denied left, right, and center; it may be denounced by his remaining contemporaries and political descendants. But that is why I submit (again) there was movement toward him, for him, and eventually with him. There was neither rumor nor whisper nor discoverer of oil in his time. Today there is.
Today there is no equivalent sympathetic figure in the office he occupied for so long. On the contrary, there is great rancor, greater fear, and the greatest of distrust. Adversaries look back at the near past and there is the bitter edge: Not now! Not you! Not again! Unlike Cheddi Jagan, there are flowing, slashing positions and allegations of conspirator, divider, abuser, brutalizer, deceiver, and a litany of the less than lustrous. There is no sympathy today. Neither sense nor sentiment of someone wronged, but of one who labor under clouds of countless perceived wrongs. There are those distinguishing, determining passions. And there is something else, too.
There is no credible, untrampled middle ground or ready middle-of-the-roaders. Because of heavy, impenetrable misgivings, there are no independents nor centrists willing to be identified to fill the mined and treacherous breach. Look carefully. Likely political influencers (such as ANUG and others) are elbowed aside in the wrenching, divided atmosphere. Thus, it is one political group against the other political group, and nothing in between. No local icebreaker. No domestic gamechanger. That is, other than irreversible hardliners everywhere.
This explains why (from political perspectives) there is not a single Guyanese anywhere that is credible enough, trusted enough, impeccable enough to be called upon to help. That is why there is not a single Guyanese of character and regard (character and regard!), who is willing to step forward and lend a hand when needed in a desperate hour. Not one man or woman, that is acceptable to both sides, who could get leaders together and mediate a visionary listening. None acceptable. Not making self available.
Oil is here (unprecedented). The precedent of a political figure of the kind like Cheddi Jagan is not. Not for locals. Not for foreigners. That is why the world of Guyana stays flat and unflattering. There is no turning.
Mr. GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.